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The Lies Everyone Tells You About University

by Sahir Dhalla 9 months ago in college
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How I have more free time, a better social life, and improved mental health than I did in highschool

The Lies Everyone Tells You About University
Photo by Narciso Arellano on Unsplash

For years before I went to university, I had been told by countless adults that my studies were this time to be dreaded, that I would have no free time at all, no social life and friends, and immense stress from the workload.

And so, my friends and I all went into our universities expecting the worst. As excited as we all were to start a new chapter in our lives, we were dreading the workloads and lack of free time that we had signed up for. Not to mention the issues associated with online school.

Yet somehow, after one year at university, I have far more free time than ever before, as my extensive number of books read this year can attest to.

Yes, the workload has increased, but at the same time, it feels so much lighter because I'm studying what I choose to, for the most part. Having this sort of work is far better than high school too because it isn't just topics I have to study, but rather topics I now get to study. This mindset shift automatically improves mental health so much, and I know I'm not the only student who has benefited from this.

And this free time and improved mental health aren't just because I'm taking an easy major or doing a low workload. I'm currently majoring in neuroscience and philosophy with a minor in computer science, all while doing a 120% course-load and maintaining a high GPA. All in all a quite tough combination of courses.

Lie #1: You will have no free time

Your free time, time that you get to choose what to do with, is probably what you've been told is most at risk when you get into your studies. But, with proper time management and prioritizing, you will have plenty of time to do as you please.

I had a few simple rules when it came to maintaining good grades while having free time:

1. Welcome distractions are great:

When studying, we're told to stop getting distracted by anything, but I propose an amendment to this. I would keep away all conventional distractions, e.g. my phone, books, certain websites, but always kept space for welcome distractions such as my friends and family.

The rationale behind this was that, in a few years, I probably won't remember that extra 0.1% I got on the exam or essay, but I will appreciate the time I've spent making memories and building relationships.

2. A little bit of work every day

It's the night before an exam, and you are cramming everything you possibly can. We've all been there. But not only is this a terrible study method (active recall is far better), it also massively increases your stress and time commitment to your studies.

A far more sustainable method is to do a little bit of work every day. Start working on assignments the day you get them, and before you know it you'll be done and will have more time to chill and relax for a bit.

3. Plan (almost) everything

When it comes to weekly readings, lectures, and bigger assignments, I used to plan every single milestone and bit of work. But an issue with a system like this for a procrastinator such as myself is that, as soon as I missed even one of those planned tasks, I suddenly lost the motivation to do any of them and fell an entire month behind in my studies.

Instead, I find it far better to plan most things, like major assignment deadlines and milestones, but leave some leeway for issues when it came to weekly readings and lectures. A lot of the time there are issues outside your control, and that's okay. Just don't let it throw you off for too long.

Lie #2: You will be immensely stressed

Usually, we think that work and stress have a positive correlation. As work goes up, so does stress. But I've found that that isn't the case.

What matters more is the quality and type of work rather than the amount.

But, if you do inevitably find yourself getting more stressed, there are several ways to manage that which you could not have implemented in high school.

The first of these are essentially the same as the ones for free time. Spend more time with friends and family, do a little bit of work every day, and plan things out as best as you can. After all, more free time does allow you to de-stress a bit.

The second bit of advice I would give is to take a week off. When you feel yourself burning out, just take a week where you do the bare minimum amount of work. Attend your lectures and take a few notes, but just relax besides that and do your best to not worry too much about your assignments.

Trust me, after that week, you will have your most productive few days of the entire semester and will thank yourself immensely for it.

The third way I manage my mental health in a period of high workload is to find a hobby outside. This could be birdwatching, as it was for me, or running, walking along some trails, photography, or even just walking to a park and sitting there to read for a while. Doing something that gets you outside has been proven in numerous studies to help with stress and burnout.

Lie #3: Professors are soulless demons who will suck the fun out of everything

In year 11, I had this teacher who would not provide any extensions because "university professors wouldn't tolerate this" and that she was preparing us for the hardships of university life.

My parents had told me to always present my best self, wearing the best clothes and always speaking formally to professors in lectures or on emails. And I'm sure most of you incoming students will have heard the same.

Well, I am very happy to inform you that your professors will be some of the most chill and interesting people you will meet during your time at university.

Most professors will be more than happy to grant you extensions, as long as you ask respectfully and don't take advantage of their kindness. Professors are also really willing to just sit and have a chat with you during their office hours about any concerns you may have - I spent a solid 30 minutes with a professor going over faults in an essay I had just gotten back.

You will meet the odd professor who teaches in a way you don't enjoy or is the exact description of what my high school teacher said they would be like, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Oh, and some professors may also ask you to call them by their first name, so don't get too shocked by that.

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This article was previously published on Medium


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Sahir Dhalla

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